Observers are in place. The slopes have been cleared of as much flammable vegetation as possible. And now it's time to see if it was enough to prevent the deadly Thomas fire from causing further havoc.
All eyes are expected on Saturday morning to be in the hills above Montecito in Santa Barbara County.
Thomas's giant fire, now the fourth largest since California began keeping formal records in 1932, was Friday night in the north-south canyon where San Ysidro Creek runs.
A few hours after sunset on Friday, the fire was relatively calm. But firefighters feared that gusts up to 40 mph could start blowing from the north directly south in this 2 a.m. at 10 p.m. Saturday.
And if the fire enters the canyon and the winds bring the flames back to life, there is nothing to prevent the flames from rushing toward the hills of Montecito, said Mark Brown, fire operations commander.  "class =" trb_em_ic_img "title =" "data-c-nd =" 1300×730 "/>
Sources: Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Cal Fire, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap
(Sources: Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, Cal Fire, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap)
Firefighters have smothered hills in hundreds of thousands of gallons of fire retardant in an attempt to prevent embers from lighting fires and keeping fires at bay, Brown said. Some hillsides have been deforested above Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, even in the Romero and Toro canyons, to limit potential damage Fire is in much of those areas and is protected by established containment lines, he said.
But that is not the case The San Ysidro stream, which is where authorities are most concerned about the flames overnight, he said.There was a limit to the amount of flammable vegetation that could be burned in a controlled manner before qu e Thomas's fire will reach the canyon.
It would have been too risky to attempt a controlled burn there during days of stubborn winds because it would have created another big fire that would spray coals in all the communities south and west, Brown said.
Then, sometime in the morning of Saturday, when the observers on the tops of the mountains warn the crews that the winds are coming, the firemen are going to clear and look and wait to see if your preparations were enough.
If the winds trap the flames well enough to send the fire that runs south through the canyon to Montecito, "we will not stop the spread," Brown said.
There are hundreds of homes that would be on the potential path of fire and with such strong winds, it is a deadly proposition to put firefighters in front to stop it. Instead, crews should watch the fire pass from the designated "security zones" and then attack it from behind.
Brown said he expected the structures to burn on Friday night or Saturday if the winds return.
More than 300 engines crews are placed along roads, in open fields and on private properties with plenty of space to operate. An additional 300 is ready to flood the area.
"We are doing everything we can to keep the community safe," Brown said.
Martin Johnson, division chief of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, sent a message directly to residents in the potential evacuation zone.
"If you are in an evacuation order area, I ask you to pay attention to that order, if you are in one of the warning areas … be prepared to go at any time," Johnson said. "This is a significant event and we want everyone to be ready."
Commanders have identified specific locations in the mountains that would trigger additional evacuations if the fire reaches those points.
Friday was the 12th consecutive day of red flag fire warnings: the longest sustained period of recorded fire weather warnings.
"We put out a lot of red flag warnings, but we have not seen them for 12 days in a row, that's unusual," said National Meteorological Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan. "This has been the longest event we had a red flag warning without interruptions."
The meteorological service instituted red flag warnings in 2004 and is intended to alert fire agencies about hot, dry and windy conditions that encourage forest fires.
The National Weather Service warned that red flag conditions would take effect in the mountains of Santa Barbara County from Friday night through Saturday night.
Red flag conditions are also forecast in the mountains and valleys of Ventura and the counties of Los Angeles on Saturday night until Sunday night; they were also forecast for parts of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties on Sunday.
Red flag alerts were also in effect for this weekend in broad swaths of California, including parts of the Bay Area, Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. 19659002] The Thomas fire has killed two people, including a firefighter on Thursday, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and damaged hundreds more. Friday night contained 35%.
The fire started on December 4 in Santa Paula, near the Colegio Thomas Aquinas. On its first day, the fire spread to the southwest, towards Ventura, and to the northwest, it finally embraced – and avoided – Ojai before pushing towards the coast of Santa Barbara County.
The fire destroyed 256,000 acres. Now it is the fourth largest fire in the history of the modern state, it is only a few thousand acres of climbing the ranks again.
The fire is so large that its eastern and western fronts are influenced by completely different wind and terrain patterns. In many ways, it's as if the firefighters were fighting two separate fires some 40 miles away.
Much of the recent fire growth was north of Ojai in the Valle Rosa east of Highway 33, where the flames are fed by chaparral and dead vegetation. said Jude Olivas, a spokesman for the agencies that fight against fire.
The rest of the fire spread north, deeper into the Los Padres National Forest, or west, where it crawled along canyons near the rich enclaves in Summerland. Montecito and Santa Barbara
Crews from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have worked hard with firefighters from 10 other western states to scrape containment lines that would serve as firebreaks before winds change on Friday. night. Red fire retardant stripes thrown by an airplane or sprayed by tankers line the slopes as well.
Firefighters carried out small controlled burns that destroy the fuel for the forest fire. The crews are lit with a firewall using a flaming drip torch filled with fuel or a "squat", a gun that throws flares 20 to 40 feet in the brush. Tankers and firefighters continuously monitor these fires and shut them down if they grow too large, Olivas said.
Firefighters estimate that the flames have cost up to now 96.9 million dollars to fight. There were an estimated 8,300 firefighters fighting the fire on Friday.
Serna reported from Montecito and Ventura, Mejía from Los Angeles. Times Times writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report from Los Angeles.